Coming Fall of 2015-“This Angel On My Chest” A collection of short stories

Leslie Pietrzyk, fiction mentor in Converse College’s MFA program and friend to Why The Writing Works bloggers, made a big announcement at winter residency:

My manuscript of short stories won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize!  My book, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, will be published in the fall of 2015 by the University of Pittsburgh Press!  Oh, yay!

Read the rest of her post here.

I still miss Leslie’s (and her co-leader Marlin Barton) workshops. 🙂 If you’re interested in learning from this fantastic writer, apply here.

South85 Journal

South85stack-1South85 Journal is the official literary journal of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program.

“I won’t change anything the first year,” I said to both retiring Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gray and Contributing Editor Rick Mulkey when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal this past December.

That was before I led my first staff meeting at the Converse Low-Residency MFA program, where I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the staff.  Not only did all of the previous staff members (except Sarah Gray, of course) decide to stay, but quite a few new people joined us:  David Colodney, Kristi Hébert, Rebecca Landau, Connie Thompson, and Jacob Allard.

I left the meeting with my mind racing with ideas about what to do with everyone who was interested in serving our journal.  Improvements I knew we needed to make – like a weekly blog, a social media presence, a review section for the journal, and a brand – became possible immediately rather than in the months – or even years – to come. We now have a Blog Editor, a Review Editor, an Artistic Director, and a Social Media Director.

With these new positions, we have created a logo, redesigned our site, started posting to our blog weekly, begun conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and planned reviews for our upcoming issues.  In addition, we have kept up with our regular task of reviewing work submitted to us for our 2014 issue.

So, if you haven’t visited our website lately (or ever), please stop by.  If you like what you see, here are three ways you can support us…  and none of them involving donating or spending any money: `

1.  Read

One of the most important things you can do for any literary journal to read  it. As much as writers say they write for the love of writing, writers also want to be read. And without readers, there would be no reason for literary journals to exist. So, check out our past issues. If you like what you see, sign up for our e-mail newsletter, and we’ll let you know when the next issue is available. Also, visit our weekly blog for a little literary inspiration. You can subscribe to it using your favorite RSS reader, or sign up to receive posts in your inbox.

2.  Contribute

If you are a reader, a writer, or an artist, we want to see your work! If you love to read and want to tell others about good books, join our staff as a reviewer. If you’re a writer or an artist, you can contribute your work to our journal. Our reading period ends April 30, so don’t delay if you have something good to show us! We are looking for poetry, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and visual art. Also, we have a weekly blog where you can share your thoughts on all things literary with other likeminded people. Visit our submissions guidelines page for information on all of these categories.

3.  Participate

We are not a static, stuffy journal of the past! We want our readers and contributors to be a part of the conversation. Plug in by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook. We are planning some fun contests using these two outlets starting this summer, so you don’t want to miss them.

Thanks in advance for your support!  We look forward to seeing you online, and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any ideas about how we can improve our journal.

Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College.  In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal, she is the Marketing Manager of Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.

 

Make up Your Own Mind: Letting the Reader Write

by Rhonda Browning White

During my MFA days, I kept a journal of important suggestions and bits of advice passed down to me by professors, instructors, visiting writers and my cohorts; epiphanies, ah-ha moments, words to live by, definitely words to write by. I still turn to these one-liners, these brief explanations, these light-bulb statements that point me in the right direction when I feel lost or need inspiration. One such statement came from my mentor, author Robert Olmstead, who said to my workshop peers and me, “It’s not about what you write, it’s what you don’t write. Make the reader do some of the writing. Invoke, invoke, invoke. Make the reader conjoin A and C. Leave out B. Don’t burn words.”

For years, I had spelled out everything for the reader. I wanted her to understand. I wanted to explain. In that moment, I realized that the best fiction—stories I love and re-read, are the stories that allow me to draw my own conclusions. And sometimes, in the re-reading, my opinion and conclusion changes. These stories become, for me, timeless.

Since then, I’ve sought short stories in which the narrative and its elements are not spoon-fed to us, stories where we are allowed to develop a relationship with the characters and draw reflective meaning from their experiences. Here are two examples I’ve found in The Best American Short Stories 2010, which we can examine and learn from to prevent ourselves from burning words.

In her story “All Boy,” Lori Ostlund writes of Harold, a studious and introverted child who is audience to the breakdown of his parents’ marriage (Ostlund 263-78). His father is gay. We know, without being specifically told, that Harold’s mother fears their son may have homosexual tendencies, so she protects him from being ostracized by teachers and classmates by telling them, “I guess Harold’s just all boy” (Ostlund 275). Ostlund never points out these things directly, but lets the reader reach this conclusion and determine for herself if Harold’s mother is in denial of her husband’s and son’s tendencies, or if she’s merely operating in the protective role of mother. Ostlund never tells us until the last paragraphs that Harold’s father is gay. We are allowed to experience this revelation as Harold experienced it; gradually, by applying our own knowledge and societal frames of reference to what is taking place. We experience for ourselves what Harold is thinking and feeling, so much so that at the end of the story, we want to usher him back into the safety of the womb-like closet, where he is protected from the harsh realities of the world.

We suspect from the opening line of Tea Obreht’s “The Laugh” that the darkest part of the story is over. “They were talking about the funeral when the lights went out” (Obreht 246). Still, suspense builds throughout as we learn that Neal, our narrator, feels guilty over some instance that occurred between him and best friend Roland’s late wife, Femi. He loved her, I inferred, though no steamy affair ever made print. Throughout the story, Neal does everything he can to protect Roland; physically, when he follows him into a pack of wildebeests without a loaded gun; and emotionally, when he places heavy sacks of flour into Femi’s empty casket to keep Roland from discovering that hyenas stole her body. Neal came face-to-face with one of these hyenas, though a pane of glass separated them. But the hyenas’ laugh, not their vile golden eyes, was what tormented him. “It was the laugh that made his stomach turn, and they laughed all the time, every night they were there, as if they knew their laugh made him wonder, made him want to come outside to them in the dark, or, otherwise, put a gun in his mouth” (Obreht 257). Yet, when the story ends, it isn’t the hyenas’ laugh that haunts him, it is Femi’s laugh. Again, the reader is left to her own inference, her own conclusion, based on her knowledge—not of hyenas, but of humans and human nature.

It is what we leave out, then, not what we put into a story, that provides the reader with a satisfying, poignant or devastating twist. Leave out the B parts. Let your reader reveal what has been hidden, let him write what is missing.

 Works Cited

Obreht, Tea. “The Laugh.” Russo 246-62.

Ostlund, Lori. “All Boy.” Russo 263-278.

Russo, Richard, ed. Introduction. The Best American Short Stories 2010. New York: Houghton,   2010. Print.

Writing Advice-Voice

Voice-as defined (sorta kinda) by wikipedia-states “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).

For more thoughts on voice, check out these blog posts:
Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice
How Can I Find My Writing Voice?
What Is Writer’s Voice?

Still Searching For My Voice

How To Craft a Great Voice

Develop voice by Listening

Finding A Voice

Know of any posts/articles/advice on voice? Post the links in the comments. (links not contributing to the discussion will be deleted)

Journal Focus

Image Journal: Bridging Faith and Imagination. Their blog “Good Letters
From Image’s About page: A culture is governed by its reigning myths. However, in the latter days of the twentieth century, there is an uneasy sense that materialism cannot sustain or nourish our common life. Thankfully, religion and art have always shared the capacity to help us to renew our awareness of the ultimate questions: who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. Read more at the above link-Bridging Faith and Imagination. Publishes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction

Ruminate   From Ruminate’s About page: ru’mi-nate: to chew the cud; to muse; to meditate; to think again; to ponder. Ruminate is a quarterly magazine of short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art that resonate with the complexity and truth of the Christian faith. Each issue is a themed forum for literature and art that speaks to the existence of our daily lives while nudging us toward a greater hope. Because of this, we strive to publish quality work accounting for the grappling pleas, as well as the quiet assurances of an authentic faith. Ruminate Magazine was created for every person who has paused over a good word, a real story, a perfect brushstroke— longing for the significance they point us toward. Please join us.

Ruminate’s Blog:

Tin House-check out their latest issue. A story by Stephen King. Interviews of Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and much, much more. Blog

Unstuck publishes once a year. From their about page: Unstuck is an independent, nonprofit annual based in Austin, Texas. We emphasize literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal—a broad category that would include the work of writers as diverse as Abe, Ballard, Borges, Calvino, Tutuola, and (of course) Vonnegut. In our pages, you’ll find everything from straight-up science fiction and fantasy to domestic realism with a twist of the improbable. We feature a mix of established and emerging fiction writers from both the genre and literary publishing communities. We also publish a limited selection of poems and essays. Interviews and Excerpts

Coconut Poetry. Submission guidelines

What’s My Name?

by Rhonda Browning White

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (II, ii, 1-2).

Sorry, Juliet, I disagree.

In fiction writing, a character’s name is more than a mere identification label—it defines her, sets her apart, reveals something (perhaps something otherwise hidden) about her personality. What would Nabokov’s Lolita be like, if her name were Mildred? Does the new name evoke the image of an innocent, yet stunning, nymphet? Not so much. Of course every word in a story matters, but a character’s name is something that, if well chosen, will cause your readers to remember your character and your story for years, even decades, to come.

Annie Proulx is a master at naming characters. Who doesn’t feel a little thrill when coming across the character names in her short story “Pair a Spurs” from Close Range: Wyoming Stories? Who could expect a man named Car Scrope to amount to anything, or imagine a woman known only as Mrs. Freeze to show warmth and compassion to anyone? (150-86) Of course, she doesn’t.

Flannery O’Connor chose excellent names for her characters, even allowing one character in “Good Country People” to change her name from Joy to Hulga as her personality soured (271-91). Nor can we forget the name of the Bible salesman, Manley Pointer—a phallic name representing a man out to screw everyone he meets, if ever there was one.

Think outside the box when choosing a name for character. Avoid lazy tricks, like naming them after your own family members, or choosing stock names like John and Jane Smith. Leave Jack to his beanstalk, too. Make sure your character’s name is age appropriate. Novice writers often choose a name that his popular now for a character born fifty years ago, and it sounds false.  Also, take care not to give your characters names that sound similar, or that begin with the same letter. A story full of names like Kathy, Kristy, Karen, Sharon and Sherri will drive a reader batty.

When you chose names that are vividly memorable, those names may help link the characters (and thus the story) to the reader with some permanence. Reveal a concealed flaw, or declare an obvious trait when assigning names. Take your time in choosing each moniker, even each nickname. It’s important. Everything is in a name.

 Works Cited

Nabokov, Vladimir. LolitaNew York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straux and Giroux, 1971. Print.

Proulx, Annie. Close range: Wyoming stories. New York: Scribner, 1999. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet.

Fifth week round-up

Fifth week round-up highlights posts in the last few months:

May’s roundup

History and Humanity in Summary

A Different Sense of Place: Where a Story Begins and Ends

I Want Every Poem to Change My Life. No Pressure

Blogs You Should Be Reading

Winging It

Down the Rabbit Hole: Growing Strangeness in The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club

The Snow Child

Barry Hannah’s Monstrous American Hero

“Words that burn”: Honesty in Denise Duhamel’s Blowout

June’s round-up:

Writing Tips to Get You Through the Summer Doldrums

Diamond Mining

Biblical Allusion in Flannery O’Conner’s The Violent Bear It Away

Just Breathe

July’s round-up:

Lines That Linger

Repetition in Tanya Olson’s “Notes from Jonah’s Lecture Series”

The Threat of Violence

Werewolves and the War on Terror: A Literary Snob on Betrayal

Literary Magazine Highlight-Glimmer Train, Slice

Literary Magazine Highlight-Glimmer Train, Slice

Support for literary magazines is crucial. Here is a short sampling of some of the literary magazines I’m familiar with:

Glimmer Train is a literary magazine that publishes quarterly. The magazine publishes strictly short stories and each issue is approximately 200 pages. Each issue comes with a bookmark to mark your place in the event you have to put it down before you’ve finished reading. The covers are colorful and each story includes a childhood picture of the author, with a personal comment from the author about the picture’s importance–an aspect of the magazine I really enjoy reading.

In addition to their magazine, they also publish a quarterly newsletter Writers Ask, a great little resource for both serious writers and readers of literary fiction. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten this, but I just signed up for a new subscription, and I plan on keeping each issue in a binder.

Glimmer Train also has a free bulletin. A sample is here and if you want to sign up for it, scroll to the bottom of the home page. This bulletin is well-worth reading–it contains essays from established authors, news on the latest contests, and other informative information. It’s always free, so there’s no reason not to sign up for this valuable resource. From the last issue: Allison Amend’s letter to her younger writing self.

Here is information on regular submissions or contests. Glimmer Train pays both contest winners and those chosen for publication in their magazine.

*

Slice is a literary magazine based in Brooklyn, New York. Slice publishes poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. It is a paying magazine, and is published twice a year. Their next reading period is June 1-August 1; guidelines are here. Issues are well-put together–in content and in physical appearance. Each issue is substantial–this magazine just feels good in your hands. My favorites are the author interviews and the fiction, but I find myself reading each issue cover to cover.

The Slice and Dice section contains an interview of author Eric Larson (The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin); a weekly podcastEncounters in Publishing-short essays on the publishing world, (check out the sidebar for Encounters in a Bookstore); and information on their conference and New York City events.

Those are just some of my favorites. Feel free to add your favorite literary magazine in the comments section.

Blogs you should be reading

in addition to this one. 🙂

From the Beyond the Margins about page: Beyond The Margins is…. A blog, a sounding board, a daily dose of insight. It offers essays on the craft of writing and the business of publishing. There are tips on creating memorable scenes and great dialogue. Interviews with authors, editors and agents. Humorous pokes at the craft, the industry and at ourselves. Think literary magazine run amok.

Does sorting through the myriad literary magazines available make your head spin? The Review Review is a site that, well, reviews literary magazines. New Pages is also a site that maintains a database of literary magazines, literary magazine reviews, contests, publishers and more. Poets and Writers also maintains databases of MFA programs, literary magazines and more at their Tools For Writers page.

If you’re a recent MFA grad, or soon-to-graduate from an MFA program, here’s a new blog worth following: MFA Day Job

What other writing-related blogs are worth following? List them in the comments–inappropriate links will be deleted.

Hook, Line, and compelled to keep reading

post by Cheryl Russell

KnockemstiffSmall-e1305590714336Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollack

Donald Ray Pollack’s short story collection Knockemstiff is a collection of linked short stories—tales that are dark and, most of the time, violent. These are people who understand they have no escape from the poverty of southern Ohio—they are people without hope and these stories reflect that hopelessness. This is a difficult book to read, but yet, it’s a book very difficult to put down once you’ve started reading.

Why?

It took me awhile to hit on a reason why this dark book stays with me and why I found myself re-reading it for this post, but the reason is Pollack’s opening sentences. His sentences at the beginnings of his stories are hooks that caught me, and the rest of his writing then reeled me in, no matter how much I wanted to put the book down.

“My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive in when I was seven years old” (1) is the first sentence in the first story. Several questions come to mind: what kind of a father shows his seven year old how to hurt another man? And at a drive-in, where the only violence should be kids fighting in the backseat over the last few M&Ms. As the story progress, we find out what kind of a father this man is, and the life-altering (not in a good way) this encounter has on his son.

“Dynamite Hole” starts with “I was coming down off the Mitchell Flats with three arrowheads in my pocket and a dead copperhead hung around my neck like an old woman’s scarf…” (13). While the first part of the sentence isn’t attention grabbing, the dead copperhead snake hanging around the narrator’s neck makes a reader pay attention. The rest of the story involves incest, rape, and murder–repulsing the reader while at the same time compelling the reader to finish the story.

“When the people in town said inbred, what they really meant was lonely” (39), or so the narrator says. Do the townspeople really mean lonely or do they really mean what ‘inbred’ implies? Lonely is one thing—kind of boring—but inbred is something else altogether. The reader is left to draw her own conclusions in “Hair’s Fate.”

Other opening lines that hook the reader:

“Nettie Russell died in the spring, and left her grandson, Todd, an old Ford Fairlane and a Maxwell House coffee jar with two thousand dollars in it, a fair sum of money in 1973” (70) opens “Schott’s Bridge.” What is Todd going to do with the money? At this point in the book, the reader can safely surmise it won’t be anything wise.

“I was staying out around Massieville with my crippled uncle because I was broke and unwanted everywhere else, and I spent most of my days changing his slop bucket and sticking fresh cigarettes in his smoke hole” (110) begins “Bactine.” The rest of the paragraph draws in the reader more firmly.

Strong opening sentences catch the reader’s attention throughout the book. Even though I found myself more than once wanting to put this book down and walk away, I kept reading, drawn in by Pollack’s strong opening sentences. What this writing has shown me is the importance of the hook, drawing your reader in from the first words, compelling her to keep reading, no matter how dark the stories may be.

Excerpt from Knockemstiff
Pollack, Donald Ray. Knockemstiff. New York: Anchor Books. 2009. Print.